Mick Gosling tribute: 'A man of honesty and justice'
- Credit: Courtesy of Kathryn Johnson
“Don’t tell anyone where you got this?” said Mick Gosling, handing me a brown envelope stuffed with documents.
He shouldn’t have. He really shouldn’t have – he was a press officer at the time and was supposed to be keeping bad news out of the press. But the documents revealed a scandal and it was in the best interests of the people for it to come out, and so it was the right thing to do.
That was Mick – who has died aged 68 – the kindest, brightest, most principled press officer I ever worked with in my journalism career.
Mick and I had slightly different politics – Jeremy Corbyn spoke at his funeral recently – but we both believed in honesty and justice.
For three turbulent years covering the disintegration of the old Hackney Council, I spoke to him daily and often shared a pint, arguing over what the “real” story was on any given week.
I went on to Fleet Street and we lost touch, but it has taken his passing for me to realise something: I learned more from Mick than almost anyone else about how to do my job properly. Reading tributes from friends and colleagues this week, something else dawned: it wasn’t just me. Far from it.
He was born in Plymouth in 1952 and graduated from Kent University in 1974 with a first. He was politically active from the start and during the years he was supposed to be studying, he wrote articles and organised a picket at Wallsend shipyard following the coup in Chile in protest at the two Chilean warships being refitted there.
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By the mid 70s, Mick was organising anti-fascist demonstrations with Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Grant.
He worked at Ford for 10 years, and was a shop steward of the T&G, but was sacked in 1988 for his militancy. In the tail end of the Thatcher era he was one of the first organisers of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.
With that background – writing, politics and campaigning – it was no surprise perhaps he became chief press officer at Hackney Council 1991-97. One of his innovations still pops through your letterbox – he set up the Hackney Today news sheet.
Councillor Ian Rathbone, a long-term friend, said, “He had political vision and flair which he brought to his approach to council public relations. He felt it was important to explain to people why decisions were made and the thinking behind them. He also supported greater reflection of diversity in the council workforce.”
I joined the Hackney Gazette as a greenhorn trainee journalist not long after he joined, so he was perfectly placed to help sharpen me up.
I had only been at the Gazette a few months when I broke one of the stories which scuppered John Major and his Back to Basics campaign. Mick and I both found ourselves bombarded with hundreds of calls as the British media belatedly decided to look for sleaze in the Conservative Party. And they found it: My story – Tim Yeo – but also David Mellor, Stephen Milligan and Steven Norris and the others.
Mick’s partner, Kathryn Johnson, told me the story ruined their Christmas – she was forced to take calls from journalists on the house phone while Mick stood in the cold in a phone box calling people back.
Not long after, I broke a story about Romeo and Juliet being banned in Hackney for being “too heterosexual” (ah, those were different times) and the story went global. I remember sitting over a pint with Mick and he told me they had two filing cabinets of cuttings on that one story. The trouble with a big story like that, of course, was that every journalist in the world contacted Mick and his team first for a comment. My belated apologies for the late nights and the lost Christmas, Mick.
I remember meeting him for a pint one night, fresh from having been jostled by a group of angry protestors for my coverage of that story.
Shaken, I told him about it. Laughing hysterically, he slapped my back and said: “Welcome to the world of consequences, Mr Burkinshaw.”
Thanks for everything, Mr Gosling.
Mick Gosling, 26 September, 1952 – 7 April, 2021. He is survived by his wife, Kathryn Johnson, and his two children from a previous relationship, Natalya and Alexander.
- Des Burkinshaw is a former Times journalist; a television producer/director; a composer; and was a reporter with the Hackney Gazette from 1992-1995.